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2020-21 HPRU Vaccines and Immunisation Studentships

NIHR-funded PhD studentships in applied health protection research at LSHTM in collaboration with Public Health England

Vaccines & Immunisation

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) has been awarded three five-year grants from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in collaboration with Public Health England (PHE) for three Heath Protection Research Units (HPRUs) in Environmental Change & Health, Immunisation, and Modelling & Economics.

HPRUs are joint research units that facilitate world-class research between PHE and leading UK universities in areas of applied health protection research that are directly relevant to the mission of PHE.  They have a strong emphasis on research training, and provide opportunities for students to undertake research degrees on highly topical issues that feed directly into national policy making and public health response.

Read more about the NIHR funding competion

Within the Immunisation HPRU, funding is available for four three-year full-time PhD studentships to start in September 2020.  Two projects are currently listed here; two additional projects within the electronic health records theme will be posted in April 2020.

The successful candidates will conduct research in a range of cutting-edge applied health protection research topics.

The Research Training Environment

Students will be mentored by supervisors at both LSHTM and PHE, and be guided by an Advisory Committee consisting of at least two other experienced researchers who may be external to LSHTM and PHE. They will have the unique opportunity of conducting research in both academic and public health settings, and spend time in both institutions.

Students, academics, and professionals come to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) from all over the world because of its international presence, collaborative ethos, research excellence and prestigious study programmes in public and global health.

Details of the Schools rankings and awards as well as current research in action can be found here.

Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases

The Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases (CMMID) is a multidisciplinary grouping of epidemiologists, mathematicians, economists, statisticians and clinicians from across all three faculties of the LSHTM.  Research focuses on understanding and predicting the epidemiology of infectious diseases so that more effective control programmes can be devised.  Researchers are developing and applying mathematical models to a range of infections including HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, HPV, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, influenza, rotavirus, measles, varicella, pneumococcal disease, Hib, malaria and sleeping sickness.  More fundamental research includes developing methods to measure underlying contact patterns, sampling hard-to-reach populations (such as drug users), efficiently fitting complex mathematical models to data, and the integration of epidemiological models with economic analyses.  CMMID runs the flusurvey, an online influenza surveillance platform.  CMMID is actively engaged in developing links with other modelling groups; members of the CMMID include mathematical modellers working at Public Health England (formerly the HPA) and the Royal Veterinary College.

The Vaccine Centre at the LSHTM

The Vaccine Centre at the LSHTM is a consortium formed of over 100 scientists based at the school and among its partner institutions with a common interest in research and training on vaccines.  The Centre encompasses a tremendous breadth of vaccine research from vaccine design and immunological characterisation through clinical trials, and on to epidemiological evaluation, vaccine safety, economic modelling, social science and policy analysis.  Centre scientists work in over 50 different countries worldwide and contribute to some of the principal global networks of vaccine investigation.  The portfolio of current projects includes research on vaccines to control malaria, tuberculosis, pneumococcal and meningococcal diseases, influenza, measles, rubella, HPV, rotavirus, Hib, Hepatitis B, norovirus, dengue, Ebola, sleeping sickness and traveller’s diarrhoea as well as veterinary pathogens.  The Centre also aims to enhance the teaching of vaccine research skills spread across the School’s post-graduate training programmes and in the short course for the Epidemiological Evaluation of Vaccines run each July.

The Centre for Health Economics in London

The Centre for Health Economics in London (CHIL) is a world-leading group of over 50 academics working on a diverse portfolio of health economics research.  Work ranges from developing innovative methods and empirical research to policy engagement and impact.  CHIL works across the globe in low-, middle-, and high-income settings. Members have strong national and international partnerships and a wealth of experience in advising UK and other national governments, international agencies, and organisations.

Public Health England (PHE)

Public Health England (PHE) is a world leading scientific organisation with a mission to improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, reduce inequalities and protect the public’s health.  It works to achieve this through world leading science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services.  It is an executive agency of the Department of Health & Social Care whose remit it is to put public health policy into action.  Its 5,500 strong workforce provides Government, local authorities, the NHS, Parliament, industry and the public with evidence-based, public health delivery expertise and support.

Career Development Opportunities

Students completing an HPRU PhD will be trained for a career in either academia or public health, or indeed spanning both. At LSHTM, support for research students’ future career development is covered through the supervision process, through the Transferable Skills Programme (in the School and the Bloomsbury Postgraduate Skills Network) and the LSHTM’s Careers Service. They will also spend time at PHE observing and participating in research to address practical day-to-day delivery of public health. They will have unprecedented opportunities to network and establish professional contacts through formal and informal interactions with members of staff at LSHTM and PHE and other students.  Activities include an extensive range of seminars and workshops.  The PhD programme also facilitates national and international conference attendance by students which provides networking opportunities.

Financial support

The award includes payment of fees and a tax-free stipend of £17,009 for three years (2020/21 rate to be confirmed).  The award is only available to those who are eligible for home/EU fees.  Further information about fee status assessment can be found on the UKCISA website.

Eligibility criteria

  • Relevant undergraduate and masters degrees, both awarded at a high grade.  Applicants with a very strong undergraduate degree and relevant experience will be exceptionally considered.
  • Demonstrable attention to detail
  • The ability to work to deadlines
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills
  • An interest in applied health protection research in the UK

Each research project also has specific eligibility – please see the specific project information for further details.

Project 1: Impact and cost-effectiveness modelling of a COVID-19 vaccine

Supervisory team

LSHTM: Mark Jit

PHE: Frank Sandmann

Project

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is likely to spread around the world and to become endemic, with a substantial impact forecasted on the national and global economy and population health; hence one of the main long-term preventive measures against it is development of a prophylactic vaccine.  Several such vaccine candidates are in development and may enter human trials in the near future.  The aim of this project is to examine the potential impact and cost-effectiveness of different COVID-19 vaccination strategies given vaccines with different characteristics, and in combination with other public health measures.  The project will have the potential to benefit from data on COVID-19 outbreaks in affected settings worldwide, as well as expertise at both LSHTM and PHE on conducting economic evaluations alongside transmission models of infectious disease interventions.

Specific eligibility criteria (in addition to general eligibility criteria above):

  • Masters degree (or equivalent training) in a quantitative subject, preferably economics, epidemiology, statistics or mathematics
  • Strong interest in vaccine economics and modelling
  • Ability to program in a suitable language like R or C/C++, or strong desire to learn

 

Project 2: Improving the way vaccines are assessed

Supervisory team

LSHTM: Mark Jit

PHE: Frank Sandmann

Project

The decisions to introduce a vaccine, as well as the price paid by the government to manufacturers for a vaccine, is determined by using cost-effectiveness modelling conducted by PHE and academic collaborators including LSHTM.  However, current methods for determining the cost-effectiveness of a vaccine may ignore important features of vaccines.  (i) After introduction, disease prevented by a vaccine can increase or decrease over time and lead to replacement effects, which alters the cost-effectiveness.  This could lead to perverse recommendations for decisions such as stopping and re-starting vaccine programmes or switching between several vaccines leading to variation in protection and disrupted vaccine uptake levels (intergenerational inequity).  (ii) Socio-economic gradients for disease risk may lead to equity issues of vaccine access and uptake at sub-national level that may not be accounted for and alter the recommendation.  (iii) Vaccines may produce intangible benefits such as peace of mind and reducing seasonal bed pressures.  The WHO advocates capturing such benefits within its “full value of vaccines framework” but the analytical methods to do so are not well developed.  This project will develop methods to address these shortcomings in current analyses, and then use them to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of vaccines currently being evaluated for the national schedule.

Specific eligibility criteria (in addition to general eligibility criteria above):

  • Masters degree (or equivalent training) in a quantitative subject, preferably economics, epidemiology, statistics or mathematics
  • Strong interest in vaccine economics and modelling
  • Ability to program in a suitable language like R or C/C++, or strong desire to learn
Project 3:  Attitudes, behaviours and access to vaccination in Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities

Supervisory team

LSHTM: Sandra Mounier-Jack & Sadie Bell

PHE: Michael Edelstein

Project

Lower vaccine uptake and completion rates for certain childhood and maternal vaccinations have been identified in BME communities in England, particularly those of African and Caribbean extraction.  For example, maternal pertussis vaccination and infant rotavirus vaccination have been reported as lower amongst black-Caribbean women/infants (Byrne et al., 2017; Donaldson et al., 2015) and starting but not completing childhood vaccination course was found to be an issue in the Black, Black-Nigerian, and Black Caribbean group (Tiley et al., 2018).

We are looking for a PhD student to conduct a qualitative or mixed methods study to understand factors contributing to under-vaccination to inform the design of potential interventions.  The findings will inform the co-creation of an intervention with BME community involvement to improve vaccination access.  This research has followed engagement with the BME community.

The principal supervisor will be Sandra Mounier-Jack, Associate Professor in Health Policy and the associate supervisor will be Sadie Bell, Research Fellow in Public Health Evaluation.  Sandra Mounier is a leading researcher in health systems and policy research, with a particular interest in the delivery of the vaccination programme, in the UK and globally.  Sadie Bell has strong experience in researching under-vaccinated communities in England and with engaging communities into research design.  The student will also be advised by Michael Edelstein from PHE.

Specific eligibility criteria (in addition to general eligibility criteria above)

  • Master’s degree (or equivalent training) in Public Health, Medical Anthropology or Health Service Research or equivalent
  • Strong interest in qualitative research, and sound understanding of epidemiology
  • Interest in Public Health Protection
  • Experience in working with deprived socio-economic communities, and desirably with African and/or Africa-Caribbean communities

How to apply

Candidates are encouraged to contact the lead supervisor of the project(s) they are interested in before applying.

Applicants should then select one project from the potential project list and provide the following supporting documents:

  • A 2-page curriculum vitae, including details of their academic achievements to date and the names of 2 referees (at least one of whom should be able to comment on your academic ability)
  • A research proposal of up to 1,000 words*
  • A covering letter saying why they are interested in undertaking a PhD in this area at LSHTM
  • Copies of the transcripts from their undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications
  • An eligibility form

*The research proposal should identify a specific research question or hypothesis, expanding on one of the topics listed on the website, summarise the relevant background information (with no more than five key references) and should outline an appropriate research methodology by which the question can be addressed.

Applications should be submitted by email to EPH.FRDD@lshtm.ac.uk.  Please state clearly in the heading and text of the email that this is an application for an HPRU studentship, please include the title of the project you are applying for. 

Only applications in the correct format will be considered.

The deadline for applications is 10.00am BST, 5 May 2020.